by Freddie Johnson
The plan for a local conservation burial ground began in 2007 when a friend of mine, Larry Schwandes, shared his discovery that such a thing existed. I was immediately energized by the vision of such a place in our Gainesville, FL community. I suggested as a first step in our action plan that we meet with another friend, Robert (Hutch) Hutchinson, who was the Executive Director of Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT), a local land trust. Hutch was totally supportive of the idea and eager to help.
With Hutch’s experienced guidance, the three of us began building a Board of Directors made up of a diverse and enthusiastic group of community members. We formed a non-profit organization called Conservation Burial, Inc. (CBI) and we partnered with ACT in the project of creating a conservation burial ground for our Gainesville community.
We researched and planned through monthly board meetings for more than two years. ACT connected us with the opportunity to use 78 acres within the more than 600 acres of conservation land that they had recently acquired called Prairie Creek Preserve.
In 2010, CBI was in the final stages of working on our plan to open Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery (PCCC) when we learned from one of our environmentalist friends and strong supporters, Dr. Kathy Cantwell, that she was dying from a brain tumor. She very much insisted that she be the first person to be buried at PCCC. And after an acceleration of our plan, she indeed was the first to be buried there.
Kathy’s burial at PCCC was beautiful and amazing. She selected her own spot before dying and chose a magnolia tree to be planted at her grave (symbolic of her love for nature!). Her family and friends made a shroud for her body out of her vast collection of environmental t-shirts and her body was transported from the Prairie Creek Lodge to the gravesite by cart and donkey. Kathy’s burial was a home funeral, done entirely by her family and friends.
Fast forward to 2020, PCCC now has done more than 600 burials and we have over 1000 people on record that plan to be buried within the 93 acres that make up the conservation burial ground. The visions, ideas and expectations that ran through our minds in those early days of getting started have been dwarfed by all of the unforeseen benefits that have unfolded for families, community, ecosystems and the planet.
The active partnership between PCCC and ACT is now a noted example of an innovative model for land conservation, sustainable burial practices and building community. PCCC is indeed a “living memorial” celebrating the cycle of life on earth.
Freddie Johnson, Executive Director of Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery (PCCC), is one of the founders of Conservation Burial Inc. (CBI), the non-profit that manages PCCC. He served as CBI's board president for three years prior to becoming PCCC’s Executive Director in 2011.
Johnson and other PCCC staff and volunteers initiated the development of Conservation Burial Alliance (CBA) in 2016. CBA is a collaborative organization of conservation burial ground operators and other invested allies. H.e currently serves on the CBA Board of Directors.
Johnson was president of a North Carolina sports company he founded in 1976, inspired by playing collegiate tennis at Pfeiffer University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, until 1989. That year he and his wife Peggy moved to Gainesville, and he began a 19-year career with a pharmaceutical company specializing in dermatology. He is a certified USPTA teaching (tennis) professional. Johnson has been a nature and animal lover since his childhood experience of growing up in and around the woods and creeks of North Carolina.
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